Although long, I have a tendency to start with slightly fluffy material as an opener into deeper issues as I continue writing…
Sometimes, good intentions aren’t all that matter.
A few items shipped from overseas that I shook my head at this week:
100 fur lined winter boots- This is Africa. If they were gumboots/rain boots, then the boots would be somewhat useful for digging and tilling fields. Boots with fur lining are not only extremely hot in an area where the temperature rarely drops below 75, they could also cause foot fungus and grossness from sockless sweaty feet.
6 boxes of seeds unfamiliar to Northern Uganda- In the market, I can buy tongbulu/onions, nyanya/tomatoes, nacinaci/pineapple on a very rare occasion, eggplant, sometimes green peppers, and that’s about it. Women have never seen vegetables like beets and brussell sprouts— there were a few I was even clueless on. Itedo nining? You cook how? For some vegetables, it only takes a quick explanation of “it’s like eggplant” or “it’s in the same class as cabbage” yet they still look at you odd as they put it down to grab the next unknown seed packet. Can this be grown here in our climate? I don’t know. Try it out and in a couple of months we’ll see?
Another problem is that if there isn’t enough of one item for distribution to every student, then none of them get any of it. Same goes for homeless shelter’s when people donate food. You know what happens to those really great items that would be such a treat for that vulnerable person? Well, it goes to the staff instead. Because 100 boots isn’t enough for the 250 students we have here, the staff went through it and chose 2 pairs each. I’m not saying that giving free stuff to paid staff is all that bad, but it could have gone to the intended people group had the donors done their research or even asked simple questions about the proposed population.
Women’s groups from around the world have sent boxes full of goodies that they believe will brighten the day of a fellow woman afar. Make up to brighten the eyes, savvy hair clips, not realizing how useless and frivolous these items are to the majority of developing countries. Eye shadow dripping into their eyeballs while tirelessly digging… useless hair clips since a lot of women shave their heads because of the dirt and dust of the roads. Life, is well, just not the same and the needs are different as well.
The world needs Do-gooders—but it needs informed and knowledgeable do-gooders. Otherwise, people will pack away a huge overland container or a box with smiles and joy but then opened on the other end with confusion and wonder.
Please have a trusted contact overseas to wherever you want to send these items so they can help you gain the knowledge you need to be an informed do-gooder.
Learn about the weather patterns if you want to send items such as clothing or seeds. Save your time and money if it isn’t going to be useful in the area you are sending it to.
Ask if the items are culturally acceptable. Is it useful? Will they know how to use it or does it need an instruction book to figure it out?
Is it better to send it overseas and pay the shipping and customs charges or to direct deposit the money into a trusted overseas account in country?
Books and such items are extremely heavy and are probably cheaper in the intended country. Never send items that are old and rugged. Books should be “like new” and not 20 years outdated and yellow.
Although boxing up items can be exciting, consider sending the money to a trusted individual and have them take photos of the smiles as people are reading or using the items you helped donate money for.
A new computer can probably be bought for the same amount as shipping one from the UK. Although one might think that an old computer in a developing country is just as good as a new one, it isn’t. Stop treating them like second class citizens that are so desperate they will take anything you throw at them. Granted, they will probably thank you and take the item with a smile, but we can do better than that. Treat them with dignity.
How many people are you targeting? If it is a small number and only a portion of the school or village is able to partake, are you ready to deal with the aftermath of jealousy and how that turns people against each other? If you are helping a disabled person, do you realize that the people who said they would take care of them will probably disregard them once you leave? Are you separating the have-little and have-nots even more and is that a good idea?
Is your good-doer deed to an individual? Are you sure whatever the item might be is practical and useful? Giving a fridge to someone who has lived 35 years without because you want to bless them and the district just got electricity might not be the best use of money since the same amount could have paid for 4 years at a private secondary school. Although some might not be able to live without an Iphone in the western world, westernizing other countries is a bad idea. Their growing desire and greed can lead to haughtiness and the willingness to do whatever they must to live outside their means.
Going to the house of a pastor and seeing his brand new laptop with a wireless stick, Iphone, TV and surround sound which were all “blessings” from outsiders, I really wondered how he could live that much higher materialistically than the people in his congregation. No worries, directors of NGO’s are even worse about living extremely well compared to their beneficiaries.
If you are a large donor or even a small one, please ask your partner local community based organization (CBO or NGO) to complete an audit if at all possible. Learn the truth about their funds. I sat in the next room working/listening as one international donor asked if the local CBO could produce the last year’s budget. When the director said yes, the donor said they didn’t actually need to see it rather they just wanted to know if it was available. Seriously? Smooth words are all it takes?
“If you are honest, you stay poor” isn’t just a saying a Ugandan friend told me as we walked to my compound, it’s a lifestyle more common than you think. I’ve been told how when the money is there, you take advantage of it since you don’t know when the grants will stop.
Directors and people who entertain the loaded foreigners know what donors want to hear. They know how to play the pity card and will give you the extreme stories. (Those stories are the exceptions and not the rule for the most part by the way. Know your facts.) They play the shock factor since it gets more of a response. But don’t be fooled! The CBO could have 5 other donors that have invested money in the same project they are trying to get you to donate towards.
There has been a ridiculous amount of money poured into Northern Uganda—life should be so much more improved than what the eye can see here. Oh, there is improvement, such as someone gets a new car, someone else finishes their hotel after a large grant from the states, someone else can afford to take on another wife…. People simply aren’t always honest and although you want to trust them, you can’t.
There are some international NGO’s who have stopped working with the government since by the time it trickles down to the village level, maybe 5% of the intended funds reach the desired population. If work does get done, it will most likely veer from the intended plan to one that benefits the family of whoever is controlling the money in country. You want a vulnerable household? They’ll give you the name of their cousin but won’t tell you that last detail. Wanna fix some roads? How about the one to the Local Leaders house since that has a tendency to happen quite a bit…
Outside sources will sponsor week long trainings on important issues such as child rights or child defilement in hopes that the information will empower them and be used in their schools and communities. In reality, people aren’t motivated to do anything once they leave the workshop with their exuberant amount of travel money in hand (once upon a time, people went to workshops to gain knowledge that would better their lives. Now, they won’t even attend unless they are fed and paid thanks to international relief programs that lured people in by using $$ $igns to attend meetings.) The exceptions here are when people actually follow through and use the learned skills in their communities.
Generous Charity and Relief Aid has created Extreme Dependency Syndrome on outside sources here in Northern Uganda. Ask anyone who works with people here and they will go on for quite awhile about how the traditional ways of being hardworking, prideful about your own handiwork, and being the king of your home has been lost. Prolonged relief work has destroyed this society’s dignity. People lack the motivation and the desire to do anything for themselves.
People that decide to move back to their traditional homes expect organizations to build them huts free of charge. CCF has a project where they work with the most vulnerable to build huts and dig the deep hole for a latrine (kinda like an outhouse). All the individual has to do is make sure to finish the walls of the latrine which is soooo tiny in work or cost compared to a brand new hut. While in the field, this elderly lady said “the munu (foreigner) built my hut, they should finish my latrine.” This lady was probably grateful for her top notch hut, but the fact is that she wasn’t motivated to finish a small project that she had agreed to after getting so much for free.
While picking up a bookcase I had made by a local carpentry shop, one of the guys working asked me to give him a soccer ball (which so many foreigners have done to promote peace through sports). I straight up told him to go buy one for himself. Uganda is one of the top countries for alcoholism and I live in the part of town which is called “the walking dead” because of all the drunkenness in the establishments close by and the high HIV prevalence rate. Rather than buying food, which WFP has given them for so long, or saving for school fees, which so many outside funders get sponsorships for kids, money is spent on women and beer. Not the healthiest way of living.
When people know they can get things for free from ignorant well intentioned good-doers, it creates a complete mess. Did you know that some parents in Northern Uganda were hopeful that their children would be abducted by the LRA because the LRA was seen as rich and that once the child would get back there were more rehabilitation/educational opportunities through international organizations? Forget the thousands of children living in horrible conditions in Internally Displaced Persons camps whose educations were interrupted or stopped because of the insurgency, foreign aid only goes to the most extreme cases such as formerly abducted, child soldiers, child mothers, and then to the orphans and vulnerable children.
Then again, here’s a thought- I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t fit that description. Every kid here is either an orphan (which they can still have both parents but one has to be unfit to take care of them such as an alcoholic. Does not mean that both of their parents have passed away). District Council workers, well paid NGO people all send their kids to boarding schools in other parts of the country. Most likely if a kid is living in a village, he’s vulnerable in some capacity.
Children are considered anyone up to age 28 who isn’t married. I found it amusing when a 19 year old foreigner said he couldn’t wait to come and help the children here… although the place he’s volunteer is a vocational training institute with “children” who are for the most part older than him. Children aren’t only cute little kids here, but also young adults who have lived through horrific pasts.
So, a woman who is a single mother at 23 is considered a “child mother.” “Child soldiers” taken into the Ugandan context includes more than the 10 year olds that people portray as being the main fighters (by the way, if you’ve seen the book First Kill Your Family, the cover photo is a portion of a larger one where the caption says how the older soldier let the little boy in front of him hold his gun for the photo—this plays on how we like extremes seeing a ten year old hold a gun taller than him).
Although I have deviated quite a bit from the original topic, it supports the cause of being an informed do-gooder. Know what is going on wherever you are helping out. We all do things that we learn later could have been improved if we had slightly adjusted it this way or that. We can’t understand a culture we’ve never lived in. The point is that if we do our research, become knowledgeable, and have a trusted person to help guide us along the way, what we do could be so much more efficient and helpful. I would seriously applaud a country that said “no thanks to your foreign aid, we can handle this ourselves.”
The world needs people who have more than just good intentions- it needs people who are knowledgeable and informed about what is going on this world so we can break this cycle of useless and frivolous items going overseas in the one hand and funding corruption and extreme dependency in the other.